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  • Kelli

To New York City, with love

I have been slowly processing my thoughts about the previous year of behemoth upheaval as triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic, officially beginning for me on March 12 and still persisting to this day (and assumedly through the foreseeable future). I’ve sat down multiple times in an attempt to write one, long-form, wholly comprehensive brain-dump comprised of closure and clarity that can sort of act as document representative of this time, but in every instance my fingers hit the keyboard, it feels like a tsunami of thoughts and emotions come flooding to the surface - an elixir of feelings and regrets and hope that still all feels so unsettled. It's simply impossible to tie any of it down, and I think what I’m realizing more and more is that I can’t put these elements in pretty compartments and stack them on a pretty shelf and close the pretty closet door and leave them in the dark until I feel ready to deal with them again. No. They’re swirling around and within me, and I’m going to just write as the thoughts come to me. I hope that’s okay.

I fought like hell to keep my tether to New York City in tact. I tried to negotiate my rent down, I moved some money around to be able to make monthly payments to what was formerly my residence and now acted as a very expensive storage unit, but in the end, after a furlough and one too many open-ended circumstances, I had no other logical choice than to cut the cord and relocate.

On July 16, I boarded a one-way flight back to Orlando, back to my childhood home, back in time, it felt. My belongings that I had shipped down from the city a few days prior arrived around the same time I did, and that’s when I realized that my life would henceforth be here.

About two weeks later, riding the wave of momentum of the ubiquitous change that was now occurring constantly, I separated from my off-and-on significant other of the past eight years.

I felt like no stone in my life had been left unturned. Anything that could do a complete 180-degree change, had done so. 5 days later I got a call from my VP at the Broadway Ad Agency I worked at (a dream job I had been able to be at for a short 10 months before Corona), formally laying me off after 5 months of teetering back-and-forth furlough timelines. I had two thoughts in that moment: 1 - thank god I didn’t renew my apartment lease, and 2 - what in the actual hell is next?

To say I felt lost is a gross and minimizing understatement. 99% of the adult life I had created for myself was torched. Gone. To stare ahead at an open road is one kind of feeling, to stare out at the black abyss of space is something completely, incomprehensibly different. It was in that moment that I came across this article, an op-ed that Jerry Seinfeld wrote for the New York Times.

The article was a scathing, biting retort at this LinkedIn post which condemned New York City as “dead forever.” I understand Seinfeld's hostility, and his sort of gaslightie critique of this individual’s hyperbolic proclamation, but I couldn’t help but feel incredibly defensive reading his words:

“Feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t go to the theater for a while is not the essential element of character that made New York the brilliant diamond of activity it will one day be again.”

“You say New York will not bounce back this time. You will not bounce back. In your enervated, pastel-filled new life in Florida. I hope you have a long, healthy run down there. I can’t think of a more fitting retribution for your fine article.”

“Because of all the real, tough New Yorkers who, unlike you, loved it and understood it, stayed and rebuilt it.”

Don’t get me wrong, I obviously *know* he wasn't talking directly to me, but it wasn’t until I saw several dozen friends sharing the article, condemning those who fled, adding lines like “if you’re quarantined where there’s sunshine and warm weather, you’re not allowed to complain,” it began feeling more and more personal. I had fought to get to New York, I had striven to stay there, and when I was at last out of logical options, I left. Does that mean I deserve to be admonished? Does that mean that the three years I did spend there were merely as an imposter in a city that I didn’t actually belong in? I had lost everything and been left with only the memories, and now it felt like even those were minimized and tainted - a scrapbook from a relationship with a city that did not in fact love me back.

So now I’m just sort of grieving - which is a nonlinear, grueling, laborious process, almost always feeling counter-productive, even though in my heart I know it isn’t.

People often ask me if I miss it. Of course I do. The adventure was just getting good, you know?

I miss feeling exhausted after a long day at work and having to climb the stairs to the fifth floor in heels. I miss the juxtaposition of a violinist playing a concerto with the backdrop of the grimey downtown subway platform. I miss the way I could walk the streets in a faux fur jacket, oversized sunglasses, curled hair, a bold lip, clutching a Starbucks coffee and STILL feel underdressed. I miss the way the sun glistened off the buildings and shone in my eyes. I miss the feeling of being on the edge of Manhattan, east or west (it didn’t matter), and remembering, oh yeah...i’m actually on a super small island. I miss basement shows at 54 Below and reconvening with old friends and colleagues. I miss the moments in a Broadway theater that weren’t for seeing a show: like an event or a press conference or a tour or a meeting. It made this billion-dollar industry comprised of some the most talented and agile artists and performers just kinda feel like high school theatre. I miss being in awe of Jason Robert Brown’s meticulous yet effortless playing of his latest piece at Subculture, an intimate but packed room of people all jamming out to the music I always felt different for being obsessed with. I miss the places I would frequent: Jacobs Pickles for brunch, Paintbox on Crosby St. for the manicures I fooled myself into thinking I could afford, the SoulCycle on 92nd where I’d emerge after a 6am class, just in time to watch the sun rise on my walk home, the bench at Riverside park that perfectly shades you from the sunset, the Starbucks on 95th with the baristress who would always compliment the makeup I had haphazardly smeared on before running out the door. I also miss the feeling of being somewhere new in the city - in a venue or at a park or in a neighborhood. Taking note of the architecture or the smells or the cool view of the skyline you didn't even realize could be seen from this far south. I miss mentally taking photos of the unassuming pockets of the city: some twinkle lights crowning an alley, graffiti saying ‘You belong here’ etched on the wall of the subway car, children playing catch with their parents in Central Park. I miss feeling like serendipity wasn’t coincidental, but expected.



Running into someone from your 2016 internship right as the subway doors close, passing a celebrity on the street in your neighborhood (cheers, Mr. Seinfeld), seeing your boss from 4 jobs ago at an opening night you weren’t even supposed to be at.

It’s a city that feels enormous and intimate all at the same time, simultaneously boundless yet also compact - how is it possible?

My therapist tells me I’m a visionary. That I take notes of the little details in real time as a means of comfort ammunition for the future. I wonder when it was that I learned that everything would soon be gone in due time?

I have endless snapshots of New York. Of little moments that felt silly to take the time to capture, but now of course mean everything to me. I have journal entries from the life-defining victories and the life-altering tragedies. I have playlists aurally chronicling each season of the last three years. I have ticket stubs and receipts and invitations folded up in the pockets of coats that haven't seen the light of day since being shoved in the back of my closet (no need for them in the sunshine state). I have so many memories, all furiously and fervently recorded, that I can now take solace in.

It’s like I always knew that someday it’d be gone.

I romanticize the city the same way you do when you leave a relationship. Suddenly everything is remembered through a rosy lens. The grind was actually glamorous, the struggle is now sentimental, the inconveniences were iconic, the devastation was really didactic, the happenstance was always heightened, the dull moments were actually divine.

The other question people always ask is, “Will you go back?”

I don’t know.

Perhaps I'll find my way back to the crystal city someday. And perhaps my time there has already been archived and tucked away for good. Either way though, I know in my bones how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to play, to struggle, to grow, to ache, to cry, to dream, to prosper - to make the memories and have the experiences and see the sights that, not too long ago, I tacked onto a vision board with gumption in my bones and stars in my eyes.

You can be certain i'll never take any of it for grated.

May we all be so lucky.


And now, some memories from “the good old days.”


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